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eConsult Blog

Access and Patient Safety are at the heart of eConsult Health

Jim Roberts  | 27th November 2020
Dr Mark Harmon - Patient Safety

Dr Mark Harmon, BSC (Hons) | Strategy and Brand Director at eConsult Health.

Mark qualified from King’s College School of Medicine in 2014 and has since worked in a wide range of Specialties across Primary and Secondary care. Prior to studying medicine, Mark held some senior strategic and brand executive positions in some of the world’s leading blue-chip companies, such as Nike, Speedo, The Arcadia Group and Marks and Spencer plc. Mark joined eConsult Health in 2016.

Covid-19 has changed our world forever. The loss of loved ones, social distancing, self-isolation, and shielding have meant things we once took for granted can never be assumed. The pandemic has changed not only our behaviours, and thought processes but also the way we work and access services not least healthcare services.

Homeworking and Zoom calls are the new normal, with technology becoming a large part of most of our lives, across all age groups. The long-coming ‘digital revolution’ has been accelerated through necessity by the pandemic, and its impact includes the way we access health services. 

Digital has helped the NHS and patients through COVID

In a way, digital has helped the NHS survive the last 7 months, enabling the NHS to remain open for many patients as they access their doctors and services through digital means, be that online consultations, video calls or text messaging. 

Online access through platforms like eConsult has kept both patients and staff safe. The detailed history taken during an eConsult has helped ensure treatment can continue in many cases, while also avoiding the need for unnecessary contact.

The move to digital healthcare comes with challenges

However, like anything new, the move to digital is not without its challenges. Change management is very complex and throughout any change management process, it is vitally important that individuals are brought along on the journey. In GP practices this requires a new way of working to manage online consultations being made alongside phone calls or walk-in requests. Staff need to be trained, and those who have more expertise need to share their learnings. 

For patients, there is a need to understand how to use online platforms and what the benefits are. For many patients, the move to digital is more natural following the move they might already have taken in online shopping or banking. This does not mean that everyone will come to digital healthcare with the necessary technical knowledge needed.

More so than any other industry, healthcare deals with everyone

When it comes to healthcare, a big part of this revolves around two key points; 

  1. Maintaining access for all to ensure no one is excluded and 
  2. Trust, ensuring everyone is safe and not put at risk.

At eConsult, we are a company led by NHS doctors, so both access and safety are at the heart of everything we do, and drives all our decision-making processes. 

We ensure patients who can’t or don’t want to access digital have other means of support. By moving many other patients into a digital journey, it actually frees up time for care for the cohort of patients who can’t access digital channels. We find access for these patients actually improves. 


Contact us if you would like to find out more about our patient safety


Patient Safety is at our core

Patient safety is at our core. Our fortnightly Clinical Governance Board meeting involves 26 of the country’s leading NHS Consultants and our in-house NHS Clinicians meeting to ensure the platform is safe, up to date and relevant. 

eConsult was the first online consultation platform to market and has the widest use across NHS GP practices. We have been live in practices for the last 6 years, we know what works and what doesn’t which is why, in our opinion, eConsult the safest online consultation platform.

We take the patient through a set of questions based on tried and tested clinical algorithms, with built-in safety features and red flags that recognise if a patient is really sick and needs immediate attention. If they do we can divert them to the most appropriate health care provision for their condition. Clinicians receive reports with flags to highlight the areas of concern, for possible action. We do this to ensure every patient is safe. To date, we have had over 7 million patients safely submit an eConsult, which enables us to learn and build upon our expertise. 

More than just free-text boxes

As an online consultation platform eConsult is a mix of multiple-choice questions and free-text boxes. By promoting a mix we know we can collect all the information a GP practice would need to accurately triage each patient. The set of clinician-developed questions that we ask also allows us to maintain patient safety. From experience and years of training, we know answers to certain questions may suggest a more serious condition and one that might be better dealt with by another healthcare service such as A&E.

Without this mix of multiple-choice questions and free-text boxes, we can’t ensure this level of patient safety, and the amount of information collected would more likely require another phone call or face to face appointment. We aim to improve practice efficiency while improving patient safety and the care GP practices and hospitals can deliver.

This is not an easy process to develop and maintain, we could have produced a series of free-text boxes instead  – easier for us, easier for the patient. We do it for a reason; because we are all passionate about supporting the NHS, our patients, our fellow clinicians and most importantly of all, keeping everyone safe.